Zone of Proximal Development
by Joshua Hoyt
In creating well-rounded characters, we need to remember the wind beneath their wings. Our characters need the support of those around them or they will falter and eventually die. Think of your own lives as you struggle to accomplish your goals. What keeps you going? What pushes you onward? Lev Vygotsy understood this concept well and developed the Zone of Proximal Development in the early 1900s.
Vygotsy explained that children will follow the example of adults and gradually develop new abilities without help. However, if the child receives help at certain points, that child will grow much more quickly. The Zone of Proximal Development defines functions that have not matured yet, but are in the process of maturing.
This concept is also known as scaffolding. Scaffolding is like the stairs a child/person must climb, but he/she can only get up those steps with help up from someone on the step above them. The child succeeds when adults and other people step in to help him/her up.
If we look at our characters and how they change throughout our stories, we will see how they work to accomplish their goals, but then they get stuck. Our characters generally then receive support from another source that helps them accomplish the goal and helps them grow. Think about the story of The Hunger Games as an example. Katniss is fairly independent in the beginning of the books and has learned to take care of her family, but without the support and training of those around her the story would have been over in the first book as she enters the arena. The story doesn’t end there, though. Throughout the series, Katniss receives support and help to get to the next point on the road to accomplishing her goal.
Our stories will be more realistic as we provide a Zone of Proximal Development for our characters. Our characters will not know everything on the first page; they need to learn and grow, just like everyone else in this world.
Joshua Hoyt is a school psychologist by day, a father of four and a gamer when he’s not spending time with his family, and an author in all the other spare minutes. He is the author of How to Diagnose Your Character: Using Psychology to Create an In-Depth Character and Order of the Rose. Check out his blog where you can follow the exciting adventure of “The Old Man” and his website to be the first to learn about new releases.